How this NY-city based health coach is keeping it clean
BY PHOEBE DE CROISSET
Lily is a health coach and creator of the hugely successful clean food blog, Clean Food Dirty City. We talked about everything from her favorite plant-based dish, to the simple way you can lighten up the heaviest meal of the year – Thanksgiving dinner! Her first cookbook, Good Clean Food, is out in March.
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Phoebe De Croisset Tell us how CFDC was born. Was there a trigger moment that convinced you to make it your life’s work?
Lily Kunin Clean Food Dirty City was unofficially born in my first apartment in NYC – a tiny West Village walk up. I was just a year out of college and had to be gluten free for health reasons. There was no shortage of gluten free options but when I was cooking at home in my very small kitchen meals had to be simple, healthy and of course taste good. I lived right next door to three of my best friends from college and every week we made a point to cook together – no matter how crazy our lives were or what else was going on. I’m lucky to have a lot more kitchen space now, but my philosophy of keeping it simple has stayed the same.
PC Have you always been interested in food? What is your first memory of food as a child?
LK I grew up with chefs in my family. One of my biggest inspirations, my great grandmother, went on to culinary school from college, which was pretty unconventional at the time. She was a great example of pursuing what you love even when it doesn’t match up with expectations others may have for you. My memories are all focused around meals at the dining room table, a nightly tradition in my house. My mom’s minestrone, spaghetti, and chocolate chip cookies always stand out for me!
PC Can you tell us about one of your all-time favorite plant-based meals?
LK I was recently at Zahav in Philadelphia and the flavors brought me right back to Jerusalem. The highlight of the meal was the salatim, which is an assortment of daily vegetable dishes and hummus featuring beets with tahini, roasted eggplant, and spiced carrots. It’s not a plant-based restaurant, but the salatim here could be a meal in and of itself. I often go to Zahav’s fast casual outpost, Dizengoff, in Chelsea Market for just that!
PC What have you benefited from personally by changing to an all natural plant-based diet? How has it affected your energy level, mood, skin? Has it affected you in any unexpected ways?
LK The biggest change I experienced was when I gave up gluten. I had migraines and vertigo for over four years and had tried everything from medications to acupuncture to craniosacral therapy. The moment I gave up gluten I truly realized there was a connection between food and how you feel. Ever since, I’ve experimented to see what works for me, and even that can change between years and the seasons. For example, I’ve realized dairy is a major trigger for my skin flare-ups. I’ve also found that I have the most energy when I incorporate a bit of high quality animal protein like pasture raised eggs and wild salmon. And this time of year I’m all about bone broth – I pick it up at my local butcher shop Hudson & Charles – and stir a little chickpea miso in it. It’s great for digestion and skin!
The love and care that go into food make a difference
PC Do you think there is still a stigma with healthy food that turns some people off?
LK Definitely. I think when people think healthy food they think diet or restriction. I personally don’t have any “rules” when it comes to eating healthy – I listen to my body and try to support however it is feeling. I also emphasize that food must taste good or else you will never stick to healthy eating! You can make crazy delicious meals that won’t come close to feeling restrictive in any way.
PC What are 5 foods that you think everybody should be eating and why?
LK Lots of water… we are about 60% water so really need it to function properly. Same goes with healthy fats. I’ll take it in the form of avocado. Kale (or any dark leafy green) because it really is queen when it comes to nutritional value. Lemons because they are the ultimate alkalizers. And pink sea salt because it is packed with trace minerals and because it makes everything taste good. Oh, and dark chocolate!
PC What food is an emerging superstar right now that we should expect to see more of?
LK Adaptogens are becoming all the rage. These are not new ingredients but companies like Sun Potion and Moon Juice are making them much more accessible and providing us with easy ways to use them. Adaptogens have a unique ability to balance your endocrine system and literally help your body “adapt”. I make a daily elixir that includes rhodiola, tocos, and ashwagandha as a brain-booster, skin-soother, stress-reliever.
PC You have worked with the organization God’s Love We Deliver for a couple of years – what drew you to them specifically?
LK God’s Love We Deliver is truly an amazing organization. They were founded in the 1980’s to deliver meals to people living with HIV/AIDs and now deliver to anyone who is too sick to shop or cook for themselves – no questions asked. Their service is free of charge and they have never had a waitlist. It’s a priority for them to get to everyone that needs help. I’m such a believer that food is healing and a source of nourishment – the love and caring that goes into the food makes a difference. God’s Love always accommodates dietary restrictions, cooks for the entire family when needed, and celebrates each and every client’s birthday.
PC What kind of work do you do?
LK I started volunteering for them a couple of years ago, when their West Village location was under construction. I would trek out to Brooklyn on Wednesday nights with my coworker at the time and we would prep vegetables for the meals. Some nights it would be hundreds of pounds of onions; other nights it would carrots and celery. I joke that this is where I honed my knife (and meditative) skills! I also love to get a few friends together and bring them in on a Saturday – it’s super easy to sign up for one-off shifts solo or with groups.
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PC Your first cookbook comes out in March – congratulations! What do you hope to have people take away from it?
LK Thank you! I’m so excited to share this book. It was a labor of love and I had so much fun creating the recipes and shooting the book. It will feel familiar with clean, flavorful, simple recipes. I’ve also included some new clean comfort food classics that have become my favorites. I hope that the message is there to listen to your body and how it feels and also that food can be easy, beautiful, delicious, and fun.
PC Talk to us about the recipe you created for us today! What are the ingredients and their benefits?
LK These are switchel-roasted carrots! This is a simple recipe that packs so much flavor. Switchel is a fermented drink traditionally made from fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup. You can take a little shot of it each morning to improve gut health and as a dose of natural electrolytes – it can also be enjoyed warmed up as a tea or in salad dressings. Here I used it to roast carrots which gives them a tangy but sweet caramelization while really letting the carrots shine. Topped with cilantro (or parsley) and toasted hazelnuts it makes the perfect Thanksgiving side dish that no one will label as “healthy”.
Switchel Roasted Carrots
INGREDIENTS Serves 8
2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely grated on a microplane
2 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup switchel (recipe below or you can purchase Up Mountain Switchel)
Dash of maple syrup
Sea salt or pink salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds small rainbow carrots, scrubbed, tops trimmed to about ½”, halved
Preheat oven to 425°F and line on a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Whisk garlic, oil, and switchel together in a small bowl. If your switchel is super tangy, add a dash of maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper.
Toss carrots with switchel mixture on the baking sheet. It’s ok that there will be some extra liquid on the baking sheet. Season with a couple more pinches of salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until carrots are tender but caramelized, about 45–50 minutes. Top with toasted hazelnuts and cilantro. Enjoy!
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
Fill a large pot with 6 cups of water. Add the ginger and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the ginger steep for about 30 minutes. Strain the ginger and stir in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Taste and add more water to dilute as needed. Store in glass jar in the fridge for up to three weeks, or in the freezer for a few months.